Sunday, April 18, 2010

Best Live Gigs

I have been thinking about a list of best live gigs, i.e., recordings made over one or more days at some live venue.  As it happens, there is a thread at the Amazon Discussion Page on Jazz just now on best live jazz.  One TS Garp began the discussion by asking: "What are the best live jazz recordings ever?"  Just the kind of question that gets me hot.  

A lot of the discussion turned on the live v. studio recording question.  My take is that live jazz is not necessarily better than studio jazz once it's in the can.  Recording quality is generally better in the studio; audience reaction is part of the joy at a club recording.  What does matter in jazz more than other kinds of music is that the musicians be playing together at the same time, and not recording individual tracks.  Jazz is about dialogue.  

But jazz is also about tradition and history.  Great live recordings stand out as moments when the musicians were facing the music as it were, and exceeded all expectations.  I recommended a number of essential live recordings:
  1. Bill Evans Live at the Village Vanguard.
  2. John Coltrane at the VV.
  3. Sonny Rollins at the VV.
  4. Art Pepper at the VV.
  5. Miles Davis at the Black Hawk.
  6. Shelly Mann and his Men at the Black Hawk.
  7. Miles Davis at the Plugged Nickel.
  8. Eric Dolphy and Booker Little at the Five Spot
  9. Thelonious Monk and Johnny Griffin at the Five Spot
  10. Monk at the It Club.
  11. Monk and Coltrane at Carnegie Hall.
Those are just some of the great jazz gigs that come to mind. This weekend I have been listening to something more edgy.  On the 3rd and 4th of December, 1965, the Ornette Coleman Trio recorded a live date at the Golden Circle in Stockholm.  For anyone still trying to figure out Coleman (and that includes me), this recording is essential data.  The trio includes David Izenzon on bass, and Charles Moffet on drums.  

The piano-less trio certainly puts almost all the weight on Coleman's horn.  Whatever he is up to, it's here.  It's challenging listening, but I have decided I like it.  Like a lot of avant garde, what is being played at any moment is not all the different from what you might hear on any classic bop recording.  But in the latter case, the playful exploration would eventually resolve into a coherent melody.  In avant garde, it frequently fails to do that.  It just rides along on the bass and drum lines, like a predator hunting for prey.  I think you have to be in a certain mood, but if you are it will grab you.  Of course, that's like saying that is the sort of thing you will like if you like that sort of thing. 


  1. Ornette Coleman meets late, legendary underground director Shirley Clarke

  2. Let's not forget that Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers recorded several live albums from Birdland in the 50's and 60's. I enjoy Pee Wee Marquette's introductions. Marquette is truly one of the great characters in the history of jazz.

    And while I know you are not a "big band guy," Count Basie Live from the Sands is big band gold.


  3. Jason: Yeah, those Birdland recordings are priceless. This could get to be a very long list.

  4. I've always loved Cannonball Aderley's In New York and In San Francisco. Maybe not landmark recordings, but these sessions are smokin' and make you feel the vibe as if you were there. Cannonball was not only a great player, but a great performer that could work the audience.

  5. I am a big fan of Adderley's San Francisco album. I don't know the New York album, I am ashamed to confess. But smokin' is the right word for the former. It is a very fine live recording.